February 12, 2023
When the Roman Empire ruled the known world, there was a unique way of dealing with disloyal servants or people who just pissed you off.
When no one was looking … usually under cover of night … you’d have your servants go out into the field of the offending party and sow seeds of a weed called Darnel among the other seeds that had already been planted.
Darnel is pretty sneaky stuff. It looks just like wheat as it grows. It has the same sort of stalk as wheat and the same color of greenness. The plant is nearly identical to wheat until its fruit begins to show and by then it’s too late.
Once found, it’s difficult to remove from the wheat crop as its roots tangle with the roots of the plants next to it. So, by the time you recognized the plant, it is too late to remove it from the field without destroying a portion of your crop.
And worse Darnel is not harmless. It’s a type of poison. If livestock eat Darnel-tainted straw, they act strange, much as we might think of someone who is on a bad drug trip. The cows would tip all on their own
In the Roman empire, the practice of sowing Darnel into the fields was a common vengeance practice; the ultimate “I HATE YOU” move.
About 300 years before Jesus shared this morning’s parable, the Romans actually had to write a law that basically said, if you do something bad to me, I get to do the same thing back to you. There was even a reference to people harming someone else’s crops.
Weeds among the wheat…
Since last week, Jesus has come down off the mount and has been teaching to smaller groups and to the disciples.
In today’s passage from Matthew, Jesus offers three parables to instruct the disciples on how to live life as the kingdom nears.
He tells them about the perseverance and benefits that a mustard seed offers the world. He also tells them about the woman baking leavened bread and about a farmer’s wheat field that has weeds purposely planted within it.
In the first parable of this morning’s reading, Jesus shares the story of a farmer who plants a field of wheat … only to have someone come in during the night and sow the seeds of weeds in the field, as well.
When the weeds are discovered, the slaves ask the owner of the field if he wants them to go through the field and pull out the weeds out. The owner tells them to let the weeds grow with the crop. They’ll be separated out when harvest time comes.
So, Jesus didn’t just describe a parable. He described what some people did to ruin the income and livelihood of others.
Parables are an interesting teaching tool. They aren’t straightforward stories … the meaning can be tough to grasp and that meaning shifts around a bit.
The lesson depends on the life experiences of the person hearing it. How we hear today is vastly different than how someone heard it a hundred years ago or how the disciples heard it as they gathered.
In Jesus’ time, the wheat and weeds would be taken as meaning Israel and the other nations … or as Jews and Gentiles. The audience would be well-aware of the practice of planting Darnel. So, they would see Gentiles … the Romans … as the weeds … growing among God’s chosen people … choking off their lives.
Later, the field could be taken to represent the world with the wheat and weeds being those who are righteous and those who are sinful.
This was how Jesus explained it to the disciples when it was clear that they weren’t getting the message.
And still later, the field can be taken to represent the church … with the wheat and the weeds representing pious and the not so pious in a faith community. And there would be an argument made for dealing with the weeds among the pews.
And in such cases, it’s easy to read these verses and place wheat above weeds … wheat nourishes while weeds suck the nutrients from the soil … they get gnarled up with the desired plants and diminishes them. Weeds don’t provide a useable crop at harvest time.
After Jesus told the people not to judge or not to condemn, we can find ourselves judging the value of the plants in this parable … the value of those we consider the wheat of a congregation and the weeds within it.
If we hear this parable and take the wheat and weeds to represent people, then Jesus’ explanation means that people will be judged and excluded from the Kingdom … and for some it is taken to mean we should exclude the weeds too.
But maybe we can look at today’s passage in a different way … maybe we can use the parable to look inward.
Rather than think of ourselves as either wheat or a weed … we can think of ourselves as the field … with both wheat and weeds present within us. After all, Martin Luther said that we are both saint and sinner … wheat and weed.
When the owner does the unanticipated in this parable and tells the slaves to leave the weeds in the ground … where they might flourish or may wither … this can be seen as a moment of grace. Jesus is advocating patience … that given time the weeds could come to faith … change … and become something more in keeping with life in the kingdom of God.
If we believe ourselves to be the field in this parable, the wheat would be the crop that bears good fruit … offering the things that truly mark a life of faith … sharing love … treating others with respect and placing others’ needs at the forefront.
The weeds are … naturally … the things that suck life away and snarl up our lives … those self-serving acts … disrespectful treatment of others … greed … violence … and other things that keep people from being in community.
This morning … like last Sunday … we hear Jesus tell the disciples that it isn’t for them … or for us … to judge … or condemn … others for the weeds that grow within them … God will cleanse them of the weeds through baptism and burn the bundles away through the fire of the Spirit.
God would be the one to make the value judgements. But in the meantime, weeds might change. Until harvest time, both the weeds and the wheat are to receive the same treatment in the field.
So maybe the take away this morning is that this parable invites us to consider the weeds within ourselves … those things that get in the way of fully living a life of faith … of being a loving community … of bearing the good fruit.
And to work the field so that those weeds that are present don’t dominate our lives and taint our relationships … and to ensure that the wheat is nurtured … and its bounty is there for all to share.